Throughout Springsteen’s career, he’s always done a good job of documenting the times we live in. Darkness on the Edge of Town features gritty working-class characters in over their heads and trying to survive. Born in the U.S.A. also tackles blue-collar issues, especially Ronald Reagan’s trickle down economics and what it did to our country in terms of increasing economic disparity. Then, in the 1990s, Springsteen released the quiet acoustic album The Ghost of Tom Joad with a lot of songs from the immigrant’s point of view. On his latest album, Wrecking Ball, out this week, Springsteen addresses these issues again and the financial crash and economic meltdown that put a lot of people out of work. This album, in my opinion, is one of Springsteen’s best. It is big and epic, topical and direct. Springsteen manages to contrast reality with the promises of the American dream and point out the stark differences.
Musically, Wrecking Ball is one of Springsteen’s most diverse albums, a criss-cross of genres, folk, gospel, rock, and even some hip-hop. “Shackled and Drawn” sounds like an old chain gang song. It also has some of his most poignant working-class lyrics. He sings, “Gambling man rolls the dice/workingman pays the bill/It’s still fat and easy up on banker’s hill/up on banker’s hill, the party’s going strong/down here below we’re shackled and drawn.” Has there been a song, poem, or novel in the last few years that so clearly highlights the economic inequality that has skyrocketed in this country?
Some of the tracks feel like sequels to some of his earlier work. “Death to My Hometown” could be seen as a follow-up to “My Hometown” from Born in the U.S.A. In the new track, there’s nothing left in the hometown. Springsteen sings, “They destroyed our families, factories/and they took our homes/They left our bones on the plains/The vultures picked the bones.” What a rustbelt anthem and truth!
However, the tracks on Wrecking Ball differ from some of Springsteen’s other working-class narratives in the sense that the working-class is starting to rise up and fight back. On “Death to My Hometown,” he sings, “Be ready when they come/for they’ll be returning/sure as the rising sun.” Springsteen wrote a lot of the songs before the Occupy movement really took off, but he obviously realized enough was enough and America needs a social movement again to challenge power.
The album’s title track is also punctuated with some optimism in the simple refrain, “Hard times come and hard times go.” That seems to be a reoccurring theme on the album. A lot of the tracks state that America has always had periods of economic divide and great uncertainty, so it’s important for people to take care of each other through difficult times, and somehow, we’ll survive.
Wrecking Ball accurately depicts the times we live in, the great economic divides and inequality, and while the album may feature some of the angriest lyrics the Boss has ever penned, it is clear he believes we will get through this if we take care of each other. Hard times come and hard times go.